The Good Shepherd and His Sheep

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.   The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” John 10:1-5

John 10-27

The Sheepfolds

Jesus talked about two sheep folds he is in charge of.  One sheepfold is his people Israel, the other sheepfold is his followers. 

The other Sheepfold

He said; “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16

Let’s look up at the night sky, at the first stories that were told.  There are two constellations that speak of the sheep folds.  They are in the sign of Cancer called URSA MAJOR and URSA MINOR.  They are known as the Big Dipper and Little Dipper.  The Little Dipper has the Pole Star.

They’re also known as Bears.  In Hebrew Dohver, a fold, and Dohv, a bear, were confused, hence the Big Bear and the Little Bear instead of the Big Sheepfold and the Lesser Sheepfold.  The meaning of Ursa Major is The Sheepfold and the Sheep, and Ursa Minor is the Lesser Flock.

The Sheepfold - Ursa Major and Minor

The other stars confirm the sheepfold;
El Alcola (Arabic), the sheepfold (as in Psalm 95:7; and 100:3),
Cab’d al Asad, multitude, many assembled,
Annaish, the assembled,
Megrez, separated, as the flock in the fold,
El Kaphrah, protected, covered (Hebrew, redeemed and ransomed),
Dubheh Lachar (Arabic), the latter herd or flock,
Helike (so called by HOMER in the Iliad), company of travellers,
Amaza (Greek), coming and going,
and the name of the star at the end of the handle of the Dipper, Alkaid, means “Assembly.”

The source of the information about the constellations is from a book called The Witness of the Stars, written by E. W. Bullinger in 1893.  It complements and illustrates some of the great passages of the Bible, and shows how the story of the King was written in the stars.

The gate, and the sheep that went astray

Splattered with mud, I threw myself at the ewes and lambs that were dodging past me.  I tried to stop one charging ewe, only to stab my hand on a thorny stick of gorse hidden in her fleece.  Another jumping ewe hit me in the chest, ran me over and kept on going.

NZ lambs

It was our first muster, in late August – the end of winter and the first month of our new lives on the sheep farm.  Our arrival coincided with the lambing and docking season, one of the busiest times of the year.  We didn’t know what we were doing, and lacked the experience to see that the  docking pen was in an impossible place.  It was stuck right in the middle of the long boundary fence we shared with Mt Zion, the sheep station in the next valley over from ours.  I don’t know what the previous owners were thinking.  It was a stupid place to put the pen, as there were no corners to herd the sheep into.

Ewes and lambs were launching themselves in every direction, with us six inexperienced children, aged eleven down to five,  trying to hold them.  There were no dogs for that first muster, we were the dogs.  Our father, more used to cows than sheep, shouted at us in frustration.

That first dock took all day.  Wearily trudging home in the dark, I decided to ask for a crook for my birthday, a staff with a curved end.  It would make life easier mustering those sheep.  I thought of the pictures I’d seen of sheep trotting after their Shepherd.  What a contrast.  Nothing could be further from that idyllic image. These sheep weren’t tame.  We were strangers to them.  There was no way they were going to follow us.

In Jesus day, the sheep were led in small flocks by their Shepherd.  The pens were for the sheep to lie down in peace.  The Shepherd would lay his own body across the gate of the sheepfold.  Jesus was thinking about that when He said “I AM the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.

sheepfold

These are His words;

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:1-10

I know that the Lord has chased more sheep than I have.  He’s run after me, before I knew Him as my Shepherd.  We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.  Isaiah 53:6.  He wants us to follow Him.  May you hear the voice of the true Shepherd calling, and enter by the gate.  Here is good pasture, and you will find rest for your soul.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14

Sheep of his pasture

For such is the Kingdom

For such is the Kingdom

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:14

Sitting cross legged on the floor of her Aunt’s cottage, the child pulled out the first book from the set of children’s bibles on the bookshelf.  The night before her Aunt had read them a story from one of those books.  She was curious about the one written of in the stories.

The inside cover showed him wearing a white robe standing in a green field.  He looked so kind, and there were a lot of children gathered around Him.   She wanted to know Him, but did not know how to come to Him.

After she was dedicated to the King when she was a baby, as was the custom, He was forgotten.  All she knew was that He lived in Heaven.  She was told that only good children would go to Heaven, and then she would be told that she was bad.  If she did try to come to Him, would He make her go away?

Sometimes she would sing Him a song with a wish in her heart.   Later that summer evening as she waited for sleep to come, she thought of him in that green field.  She approached Him in her mind, but a dark presence kept her from coming closer, telling her that “only good children could go to him”.  She stood there uncertainly, not knowing He was holding out His arms to her as He dropped to His knees calling her name.

The angel who had been appointed from birth to be her guardian watched her.  Seeing she had come alone, the angel asked the King if there was not some way to be found to reach the little girl.  The angel stood between the hesitant child and the dark one.  The King roared like a lion at the dark one saying “forbid her not to come to me: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven”.

The child approached the King with longing, fearful she would be rejected.  Shyly she touched His hand, pleading “Jesus, I believe in you.  Please, I know that I am not good enough, but I want to come to you, and live in Heaven one day.  Will you let me come?”

The roar subsided as the child approached.  The face of the King softened as the lion turned into a lamb.  He held her as she was welcomed into His Kingdom.  The child could only perceive Him dimly.  Unseen her angel responded with great joy and shouts of gladness.  The joy was tinged with grief, for many of the children of Adam who came to Him alone were dispossessed and orphaned, many of them clad in filthy rags, not knowing who they really were.  If only they could see, if only they could know who they were born to be.  The greatest in His kingdom were those who were like children.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

This nine year old child was clad in green checked shorty pyjamas that had the motif “my heart belongs to Daddy” embroidered on the front, which brought a smile to His face.  Those who wanted to enter His kingdom had to come to Him in belief like this child.  Unheard by the girl He said “Child, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to you.”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  Matthew 18:2

Later on in life the King told her how she had met Him wearing those pyjamas.  She asked her mother if she had been given clothing like that.  Her mother replied that indeed she had, for she had sewn them for her holiday.

Children came to Him very easily, but unless the parents knew Him the child got left in the wilderness.  This child would not be trained in the way she should go.  She would be travelling alone to start with.  Unguided, she would eat the bread of adversity and drink the water of tears. 

It was crucial that the children were shown the way to Him.  It is written;

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6.

Encounter in the valley

The road leading to the farm was a narrow gravel road that few bothered with unless they had a reason to travel it. 

The farm

‘Mount Zion,’ a neighbouring farm lay further up the road.  In the Kingdom of God, Mount Zion is both the city of David and the city of God, “the Jerusalem above that is free.”  Galatians 4:26

The farm lay in a lovely valley.  It was hard hill country, a land of rugged slopes crowned with flat topped hills.

Joanna’s favourite place on her farm was a field named ‘Swamp.’  It lay at the bottom of the hill, over the fence from the wool shed and the farm cottage they called the ‘Whare’.  Swamp was bordered by a willow lined creek on one boundary, and a narrow poplar lined gravel road on the other.

Kapok and elm trees grew by the bridge.  The Kaukatea creek ran into a silent pool which the sun drew pictures on with its fingers.

She liked it there because it was very green, even in summer, and the voice of the water was easy on her ears.  The shadows and rustle of leaves through the Kapok trees made it a quiet, soothing place.  Purple Pukeka birds with their bright orange beaks liked it there too, making their homes in the rushes.

The King chose that quiet place by the creek for their first real meeting.

Joanna was at work helping her father move some sheep, positioned to head them off by the gate.  It took a long time for the sheep to move her way.  Waiting, she stood idle in the sun.  Lulled by the birds and the gurgle of the creek, she leaned on her crook and thought about nothing, until He came.

His warm presence added to the peace and felt like sunlight, filling the pleasant and soothing place where she stood.  She felt totally safe with him.

Afterwards she recalled the words having a feeling attached to them, although she could not remember exactly what was said.  He talked about growing up – she remembered that, and he talked about women.  It was almost like having a talk with a really loving mother, except this was a ‘He’.  She didn’t know who it was.

By the time she heard the dogs and the sheep coming, she had begged him to stay.  She never told her parents – they would have scoffed at her and her ‘big imagination’, but she did tell my younger brother and sisters about it.

They didn’t know who he was either.  “Perhaps it was Mother Mary?” one of her sisters said.  They weren’t Catholic; it was just that the song “Let It Be” by the Beatles was popular at that time.  “No, He just spoke like I imagine a loving mother would” she replied.  Who was He?  It would be years before she found out.